Recession may be Blessing in Disguise, Orakwusi tells stakeholders

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Margaret Orakwusi, Maritime First Newspaper
Chief Margaret Orakwusi- Onyema
  • As FG opts to reduce allocations to ministries, parastatals in 2017 budget

Fishing sector Amazon, Margaret Orakwusi has indicated that the current economic recession in the country could become a blessing in disguise, if Nigerians, particularly the decision makers could look more inwards and harness other options, beyond the crude oil option.

Chief Orakwusi – Onyema made the observation at the University of Lagos, during the Taiwo Afolabi Annual Maritime Conference noting that the difference between success and failure was merely in the degree of determination and power of vision.

“I think the difference between success and failure is when you fall, you get up. I believe we still have the potentials to be great as a nation and in particular in the maritime sector. We have the natural resources and can boast of a long stretch of sea water”, the chieftain of the Nigerian Trawlers Owners Association (NITOA) said, stressing that she is actually excited that now that the crude no longer fetches easy money, because the citizens would now be forced to work.

Nicol“When we talk about this long stretch of sea water, we forget the resources in the water, and that is my passion, because we do not harvest all these resources.

“We have big vessels that come in and poach on our resources. Besides them, these resources are untapped.

“So when I say I am excited the oil is no longer fetching cheap money for us, and if I may add blood money because that is why we are being seen as a corrupt Nation. We all need to work harder. The greatness of this country needs to come out.

“I don’t think we should forever remain focused on consumption. Who is confusing us?

“The Western world, the so called big giants in the economy? What it means is that we need to harness our resources. We need to produce our own goods; we need to provide employment for the youths in this country. We cannot forever remain an importation- driven economy.

“When you talk about what we are losing now in maritime transportation, people don’t get it. But it affects you as lawyers, as bankers, because the transaction areas of jurisdiction were outside the country.

“Lawyers have been robbed of effective participation in, at least, drawing up agreement that leaves our environment. And that should not continue!

“We talk about sea-pirates, just as we still talk about robbery. You know every investors needs security and then finance; banks don’t get it; because it is devoid of any long term investment. It should not be cash and carry kind of business.

“You buy a vessel costing you millions; then Nigerian banks will now ask you to pay interest of about 20, 30 percent, and over that long period you spend the most of your life working for the bank.

“And I think that is another big problem: finance is!  How can we get it solved?

“Thank God we now have a minister that is forward thinking. The Minister that  has come to set the industry up.  We have never had it so good. Already, he has set up two prominent committees:  one is about restructuring NIMASA; to make our plan attractive and even as a Nigerian it is easier and cheaper for me to flag my vessel outside Nigeria.

“Then another one is that we have identified the huge gap in the indigenous ownership of vessels. We setup that committee to look into it and advise him. Now it is sad or will be sad if we do not encourage him in the growth of Nigerian fleet!

“A lot of people misunderstand it and call it the Nigeria shipping line. But we also have to be forward thinking, positive thinking. I am a positive person. It is wrong for anybody to sit back and say it is going to fail. We once had the national shipping line. But they are miles apart and I don’t want the young ones to be deceived, I want this initiative to go on. because with an increase in the Nigerian fleet you will have jobs.
“We should not forget that we will now take jobs from the non-indigenous countries. It is so difficult as a Nigerian operator to go and get contract in the oil and gas zone. And the reason they give you is that the vessels are out dated, so we now have an opportunity to get the new vessels to partner with one of the best shipping company in the world and if not for the mind behind the ship owners, indigenous ship owners in the industry, it wouldn’t have been possible.

“It will also surprise you to know that in the fishing industry, industrial fishing industry will also fall within the Maritime class of investment units to be positively affected. Can you imagine that our population which should  be about 170 million now is yet to have a single tuner vessel, which is the money yielding machine everywhere?  So what happens to the tuner, as each vessel come and poach? I am sure we all like tuner.

“So I think we should encourage what is happening now. I also believe that government because they are back in business, they should be regulators or they should be efficient in laying the grand rules and the rules must ensure good levelled playing fields.

“Today, are we happy with what we are seeing, we need not suffer because when you sweat to make your money, you think twice before throwing your money away. (And to the youths) I am sure  your parents will tell you that is why you are here, to do very well and take over  from us”, Orakwusi said.

In his own contribution, the Lagos State Shippers Association President, Rev. Nicol felt that the challenges in the maritime industry would not have become so complex or compounded, if not for Government’s inaction and poor policy interventions.

“Some of the problems we are discussing today are those that the younger generation will effectively take over from us. I see Maritime experts. I want to go straight to some of the very key issues.

“We can have this entire infrastructure on ground uplifted, provided that they are not unduly interfered with, by the government.

“Our system is such a very complex system whereby the government will wake up in the morning without a notice and distort the peace in the Maritime sector. If we have problem today in the sector, it is because of policy failures from government. It doesn’t happen like that in other ports.

“When you talk of Maritime, it is one of the prides of the country because it has high level security but our country is so porous with inefficiency in government agencies, terminating issues that should be handled exclusively by the Nigerian Customs Service.

“As shippers we are the providers of cargoes and I must tell you that it is a sad story today because even the shipping lines don’t have anything to carry.

“Last month there was a report that twenty-three shipping lines left Nigeria and now we are about to bring in our flag ships, what would they carry? Which Cargo? And if we don’t protect our cargo, because what we are doing here today is revisiting the history of our country. Some 10-20 years ago we had this entire infrastructure in our own little way and they were working very well, until this madness for wealth crept into our system and government started bringing in people who are not qualified, who were though well bred, but were incompetent to handle maritime issues. That is where they got it wrong”, Nicol concluded.

In the meantime, President Muhammadu Buhari has said some ministries may get significantly fewer capital allocations than they received in 2016 while others may receive more allocations in the 2017 budget. This was even as the administration prioritises key sectors to get the economy out of recession.

Buhari disclosed these yesterday in Abuja at a one-day retreat for Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDGs) with financial experts invited to present and discuss priority areas in next year’s budget. President Buhari had, in Nairobi, Kenya last month, pledged to vote more resources to agriculture in the 2017 budget as his government moves to sustain concrete measures to diversify the economy.

The retreat with the theme: “Building Inter-ministerial Synergy for Effective Planning and Budgeting in Nigeria”, was part of government’s moves for early presentation of the 2017 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly. It aims at delivering improved understanding of measures being taken to get the country out of recession; improve synergy among the various ministries for enhanced implementation of planning and budget.

Speaking at the opening at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja, the president noted that over the years, there had been a mismatch between planned targets and budgetary outcomes at the national and sectoral levels.

The MDAs, Buhari stated, have not benefitted significantly from working together and building consensus around common national objectives. This, according to him, has impeded growth and development of the country. The president, who said he expected  the retreat to come up with practical solutions on the way forward to bring out a set of prioritised projects and programmes that will fit into the 2017 Budget.

“Let me inform you that because of the need to focus on our key priorities, some ministries may get significantly less capital allocation than they received in 2016 while others may get significantly more… “Indeed, the challenges we face in the current recession require ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, to deploy strategies that involve engaging meaningfully with the private sector, to raise the level of private sector investment in the economy as a whole.

“We are confident that the level of private investment will grow as we are determined to make it easier to do business in Nigeria by the reforms we are introducing under the auspices of the Presidential Committee on Ease of Doing Business.”

President Buhari reiterated that his government would continue to strategise on how to turn current challenges into opportunities for the nation and especially for the vibrant youth on whose shoulders lies the future of this nation. “This is why we have embarked on measures and actions that will open up the opportunities we have seen in the Power, Housing, Agriculture, Mining, Trade and Investment, Information Communication Technology (ICT) Sectors, Tourism, Transport and other sectors.

“I wish to reassure its teeming youth that this Government would remain steadfast in its effort to ensure greater progress and prosperity for you. “While government is taking the lead in the task of repositioning our economy for change, we cannot achieve this completely by ourselves. We will need, and we ask for the support and cooperation of the private sector’s domestic and foreign investors, the States and Local Governments, the National Assembly and the Judiciary as well as all well-meaning Nigerians in this important task. We are confident that working together, we shall succeed”.

Earlier, Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, said Nigerians were warned about the current recession. She said government “sympathises with the people of Nigeria, but, what is more serious is our intentions, our resolve and plans to turn it around,  we have said it before that we knew we were going to go into a very difficult period. Reactions are, however, trailing the move to reduce and increase MDAs allocations in 2017. Pat Utomi, professor of political economy and management expert said whatever figure NASS approves is binding in law.

“If a budget for a ministry, department and agency of government is approved by the National Assembly, it then becomes a law and nobody can change it except he goes back to the National Assembly…According to that document, it is the legislative that has the power to disburse an approved budget which also implies that there is no taxation without representation.

“It is the taxpayers’ money that we are talking about so, the National Assembly must approve of any such proposal coming from the Executive before it can be implemented.The Executive can make a proposal but the legislative has the power to the purse.” For the Organised Private Sector (OPS), the slash was inevitable bearing in mind the dwindling government revenues, both from the oil and Internal Generated Revenue (IGR), coupled with closure of many businesses.

President of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Frank Jacobs, said the slash was okay, provided it was done in fairness to the organisations and in relation to the economy. Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, shared Jacobs’ views that the slash should not in affect the operating expenditure of the agencies.

Yusuf, who noted that there must have been a framework for the budget slashing, however, advised that the cut should not be on equal basis, as some of the agencies are more buoyant than the others in terms of revenue generation.

He said: “for those who generate more revenue, it may lead to bloated spending and hence may be good to reduce their allocation. But some are not so robust in revenue generation, so government may need to think of these MDAs revenue base and their operating expenditure. The same principle of  percentage slash across board may not be applicable here. It is important to think of the critical operating cost.”

Additional report from The Sun.